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Hazing Among High School Students

Teen boy hazing another boy at school while girls record it    

According to StopHazing.org, hazing is defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”

Dr. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist who researches hazing and associated violence among high school and college students, explains that hazing is practiced to establish and maintain a pecking order among group members. In addition, Dr. Lipkins’ research shows that hazing has become increasingly more violent, humiliating and sexual in recent years.

Because there is no federal database of hazing statistics, data on the physical and psychological harm and death comes instead from researchers and journalists. A 2018 report by CNN on hazing in fraternities identified 77 hazing-related deaths since 2005, most of which involved lethal amounts of alcohol.

Unfortunately, some adults dismiss teen hazing with a “boys will be boys” mentality or similar non-sequiturs. These mindsets ignore the immediate and long-lasting physical and psychological harm that hazing victims experience.

Hazing Among High School Students

When people think of hazing, what often comes to mind are collegiate fraternities and sororities. Unfortunately, the reality of modern high school hazing is far more harmful.

Data suggest that teen hazing is more common than parents recognize. While no official state or federal agencies track hazing statistics, several research projects aim to clarify hazing statistics. Dr. Susan Lipkins has published the following statistics on high school hazing:

  • 1.5 million high school students are hazed every year.
  • 48% of students who are a part of a high school group report that they were subjected to hazing, with both male and female students reporting hazing.
  • 30% of high school hazing activities are potentially illegal.
  • 21% of high school students have participated in hazing activities.
  • 59% of high school students are aware of hazing activities.
  • 92% of those surveyed believe that high school students will not report a hazing.

A 2008 study published by researchers at the University of Maine found similar data: 47% of high school students and 55% of college students who participated in school athletics, teams or other clubs reported that they had experienced hazing. Furthermore, 95% of people who had experienced hazing did not report it.

Though 48% of high school students in Lipkin’s study admit to hazing other students, only 14% of students admit to being hazed. This underscores students’ reluctance to report hazing, and may indicate that high school students misunderstand what constitutes hazing.

The survey also suggests that the traditional nature of hazing may explain why hazing is underreported and normalized. 46% of all survey respondents reported that keeping the “code of silence” is the most important part of hazing. More generally, 67% of all survey respondents (high school, college and adult) believe that a “significant part of initiation is humiliation.” These alarming statistics suggest that parents should be aware of the prevalence and risk associated with hazing.

Examples of Hazing

Common hazing practices include forcing alcohol use or binge drinking, humiliating or isolating activities, and sexual assault. Hazing can also involve potentially lethal activities such as beatings, forcing participants to consume inedible items, simulating drowning or forcing participants to exercise until collapse.

Several lawsuits related to hazing deaths associated with college fraternities and sororities are currently making their way through the courts. Among these cases are lethal alcohol consumption, a fatal car crash after forced sleep deprivation, a drowning in the ocean and suicides after horrifying hazing abuse.

Substance Abuse in Hazing Rituals

The majority of deaths associated with hazing rituals result from extreme alcohol intoxication. A number of these cases have occurred in recent years, including the death of a 19-year-old who was “required, ordered and encouraged” to drink 1.75 liters of vodka. At the time of his death, his blood alcohol content was estimated to be 0.56, more than seven times the legal limit.

Who Experiences Hazing in High School?

High school hazing often occurs when new students join teams, groups or clubs. Statistics show that 24% of high school athletes reported having been hazed, as well as 16% of peer group participants, 8% of music/art/theater students and 7% of students in church groups. Although hazing is reported more commonly in male groups, 18% of females also reported abuse during hazing. Data also shows that students with low GPAs are more likely to experience hazing.

High School Athletics

High school athletics have recently entered the spotlight as a  significant source of hazing attacks. Examples of horrifyingly vicious physical and sexual assault occurring in association with high school sports abound in the news. While the majority of coaches, teachers, and educators are proactive about preventing hazing, some adults are willing to overlook the safety of their students. An astonishing 25% of coaches or organization advisors are aware that their team or group endorses hazing activities, many of which occur on school property. Therefore, it is incumbent on parents to ensure that their high school athletes are protected in the locker room.

The complicity of some adults, including coaches, worsens hazing practices. Half of coaches surveyed acknowledge that they are aware of hazing in their communities. Although data on participation of high school coaches in hazing is not available, 22% of college students who had been hazed reported that their coach or advisor was involved in the hazing. Several cases of high school coaches sanctioning brutal hazing have recently made headlines.

Other High School Social Groups

16% of high school students who participate in peer group activities and 8% of students involved in music, art or theater have reported being hazed.

Church groups are nearly as likely to participate in hazing as secular groups. Students from evangelical high schools, colleges and other church groups have undergone misdemeanor and felony charges related to hazing new members.

The Difficulty of Addressing Hazing

Adults and students alike often subscribe to a “code of silence” that makes it difficult to define the true extent of hazing rituals and the physical and psychological trauma that victims experience. In addition, some students (and coaches) consider hazing to be a right of passage that is required for full acceptance as a group member. Not all schools have explicit policies to prevent hazing, and not all states have defined hazing as an illegal activity, in spite of mounting evidence that hazing is becoming more dangerous.

The teenage years can be difficult, and hazing and other acts of aggression can cause teens to turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to mask negative emotions. If you are concerned that your teen is struggling emotionally or using drugs or alcohol, help is available. The experts at Next Generation Village understand teenage substance use and are dedicated to helping teens recover and achieve long-term success. Contact us today to learn more.

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